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A Few Tips on Travel in Vietnam
27th November, 2006
I lived in Vietnam for most of 2005. I thought I’d offer some recommendations. If you like adventure, I highly recommend travelling central Vietnam on motorcycle. You need not drive yourself but can ride on the back of the bike. This is not for the faint of heart as the winding mountain roads, which offer some breathtaking views of the country, can be dangerous. However, with a good English speaking guide (many are available in Nha Trang) it can be an amazing experience allowing you to meet local people and visit places that rarely see tourists. I recommend visiting Buon Ma Thuot and, especially, Kontum. The ride from Pleiku to Kontum is stunning! The most memorable travel experience I’ve ever had.
If you want a cultural exchange, walk alone in local parks near tourist areas. One example is the park near Pham Ngu Lao Street in the tourist quarter of Saigon. Local students gather in the evenings hoping to practice English with visitors. An hour or two with the students is a fun way to pass time, ask questions, let them practice speaking, and share a few laughs.
Dalat is wonderful. I was rarely bothered by people trying to sell things. It’s a quiet college town with little traffic and beautiful views. The cool temperature and hills make it starkly different from other cities south of it. I would be hard-pressed to recommend the “Easy Riders” for local motorcycle tours although they are very nice. Their itinerary seemed limited to terribly touristy places and manufactured parks. Walk around town, sip café sua da in the local eateries, and watch the world buzz by.
Although I’ve never been there, local expats in Saigon swear by Phu Quoc Island in the deep south. It’s a great alternative to the party scene of Nha Trang if you have the time and money to fly down for a few days. The Northern mountains of Vietnam are also fantastic. If you plan to visit Sapa, brace yourself for tourism central. However, it’s quite beautiful on the local walking trails. A nice alternative is Bac Ha, which has a fantastic once a week local market where locals sell everything from oxen to plows.
As friendly as Vietnamese people are, they are great capitalist. You’ll be given a stiff sales pitch in most places except local veggie markets away from tourist areas. Some places, like Hue, will leave you exhausted from being hounded. Then there are those who will downright lie to you. Watch out in the train station in Hanoi where someone “friendly” will try to escort you to your train car and carry your bags and then demand $5. Little children near tourist areas may ask you to buy them a coke only to sell it back to the vendor unopened for a small fee. Pre-arranging bus tickets through tour operators (Linh Travel on Pham Ngu Lao is great) works well. If you don’t have a ticket and have to grab a minivan ad hoc at a station, try to get in the one with the most passengers already in it. Otherwise the driver will drive around town in circles trying to get more people on board. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 60 (no joke).
You’ll see many poor people, some street children, and many beggars. If you wish to help, there are several wonderful local organizations. In Saigon, there’s the Christina Noble Foundation (www.cncf.org). Prostitutes abound in Vietnam as well although not as openly as in Thailand. Unfortunately, many foreigners visit SE Asia to victimize local children who are trapped in sex tourism. As tourism increases in the area, so will the crimes against children. Air France has signed onto The Code of Conduct (www.thecode.org), a program working to help stamp out child sex tourism. The Accor hotel chain (owners of Sofitel, Novotel) and Carlson Companies hotels (owners of Radisson) have also signed on. Signatories to the program agree to a six point plan meant to discourage this horrific behavior and inform the public. You can find more information and a list of program participants on the website. As yet Carlson is the only American company on board and no US airlines have agreed. Please try to encourage their good work by bringing your business to those helping to eradicate child sex tourism.
#1 Posted: 27/11/2006 - 02:50
13th June, 2007
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#2 Posted: 13/6/2007 - 09:55
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